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Interfacing the (In)Visible: Urban Encounters in the Hidden City

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>15/03/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>Leonardo Electronic Almanac
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish


Field Trip, released by Google/Niantic, is one of a growing number of touring apps available on phones, smart watches, tablets, and other mobile devices, that enable users to undertake digitally-supported exploration of (particularly) urban environments. Combining augmented reality, cartographic interfaces and geographic data, these apps offer situated, visual, and geo-locative urban experiences. While one element of touring apps is to connect users to local features, food, historical sites, and other typical tourist attractions, many vaunt their capacity to reveal the secret city, a capacity delivered by the triangulation between the visual, the urban, and the datafied, fostered through digital interfaces. Using urban theory and media theory, this contribution argues that apps like Field Trip reiterate a visual regime of navigation between screens, data, and urban interfaces.

Here, urban interfaces are understood as an encounter between discrete objects in a city characterized by flux. This essay refers to specific examples of hidden and ruinous sites in Manchester to draw out the contradictions of apps like Field Trip in relation to the ‘hidden’ city, using Walter Benjamin’s notion of fascination to understand the broader implications of relying upon interface-based tours to navigate and negotiate the politics of urban space. As this paper delineates, this also presents a further contradiction: in order for secret or hidden sites to be made visible to the user, they necessarily become incorporated into multiple systems of classification, and regimes dedicated to making the invisible visible.